Of course Leinster should be easily beating a poor outfit like Zebre, especially when we send out a starting lineup that includes a quality central axis like Sexton-Henshaw-Ringrose.
But does that guarantee we’ll post a big victory and that everything will fall into place for us? Of course not. So we should enjoy the impressive results when they happen.
Last week I quite enjoyed using a “list format” for the match writeup against Ulster and with ten tries to savour in this one, I see no better way to account for them than by going down a similar road.
- SEAN O’BRIEN 4m - First play of the game was an “exit set” after Zebre took the kickoff, which saw us escape from our 22 thanks to a swerve and burst by Garry Ringrose - definitely a sign of things to come though on this occasion a Healy knock on lost possession. Not long after, Jack Conan stole a Zebre lineout and we were immediately on the attack again - Sexton to Henshaw, line break, Ringrose, charge into 22...was that a high tackle by a Zebre player worthy of the new interpretations? I thought so but Garry was ok, and the attention was diverted when Luke McGrath fired an exquisite long pass to Sean O’Brien who had Zane outside him but didn’t need him...try for Leinster and a perfect way to start.
- HAYDEN TRIGGS 18m - Zebre butchered a certain try after a break from outside their own 22 … after a couple of good fly-hacks, outhalf Padovani put too much on his final one to send the ball dead...they got on the board with a penalty soon after, but it wasn’t long before Leinster marched down the field and with a strong maul James Tracy broke free to get to the line before Triggs finished it off.
- LUKE McGRATH 25m - The visitors managed another penalty and it was to be their last score at the RDS for the evening...perhaps for ever? Anyway, from the restart Sexton hung a shortish kick perfectly for Devin Toner to pluck from the air like ripe fruit from a tree and a phase or two later it was Zane Kirchener storming through the non-existent tackling before shipping it inside to Luke McGrath in good support to provide the finish.
- CIAN HEALY 29m - We win a penalty well into the Zebre 22, central and easily kickable but why go for that when try bonus point still up for grabs? So we opt instead for scrum, after which Luke McGrath takes from the base and evades their flanker way too easily to get it to the line before Church takes it the rest of the way.
- RORY O’LOUGHLIN 40+1m - Zane Kirchner perfectly allowed a back kicked forward by Zebre to run all the way to the dead ball line, earning a scrum all the way back inside their half. We won a penalty off of this scrum right after the clock hit 40 so no time for a lineout - with the bonus point secured we could have easily kicked it dead but instead we took another scrum. Again Luke McGrath takes and runs on the same side as before, again no tackle was forthcoming, and this time he combines with his winger O’Loughlin who canters past the poor coverage to score. Sexton popped over the conversion you see below. 35-6 at the break.
- GARRY RINGROSE 48m - Easily man of the match IMO, Garry showed his class throughout with consistent gainline-breaking no matter where he was hit, and with his own tackling as well...it was clear to all that his talents are meant for a level much higher than provincial. This time off a lineout from 5m out we sold Zebre that we were setting a maul, but instead Sean O’Brien brought it to the line and a few passes later Ringrose came crashing through for an easy score.
- RORY O’LOUGHLIN 68m - Hard to believe an entire quarter of the match went by between tries number 6 & 7...you could say it was down to the amount of substitutions but when you’re up 42-6 and still have the luxury of bringing on your first string front row plus Jamie Heaslip, I’m not sure you can use that as an excuse! Still, Ringrose made this one worth the wait with a well-improvised offload to O’Loughlin who went under the posts for his second of the night.
- RORY O’LOUGHLIN 71m - Penalty won outside the 22, ball kicked to touch 5m out. Maul was far from perfect as Toner knocked it off a teammate but it went backwards and still fell to Cronin, who was able to ship it to his right but only as he pulled up for what looked like a hamstring...his team-mates finished off the move by getting it out to O’Loughlin who finished an easy hat-trick. Cronin limped off as the conversion was being taken, hopefully he’ll be ok.
- GARRY RINGROSE 75m - Off the restart a sharp miss pass to Rhys Ruddock saw him charging deep into Zebre territory...some excellent Leinster ball handling skills got us right up close to the line before a sub Zebre prop somehow managed to get Devin Toner beyond the horizontal with a tackle and saw yellow for his trouble. We took the scrum option to force them into another substitution, and when it got to Ringrose he easily beat his would-be tackler for a much deserved second try.
- JAMIE HEASLIP 80m - What’s impressive about this victory isn’t the 10 tries, or the 10 conversions (though extra kudos for this as not all kicks were easy), or the winning margin, or the record Pro12 score for us...for me it was our attitude. The way we opted to go for a scrum at the end of the first half and got rewarded with a try was repeated just before the final whistle when we won a lineout around halfway with the clock reading 79 minutes. There was a sense of urgency about our forwards to get the ball in play and before long the it was in the widest channel on the other side of the pitch where there was space for Jamie to round off a perfect evening for the 10k crowd who bothered to show up.
With Ulster’s game in hand being at home against this same Zebre outfit, the Pro12 table looks as though it has developed into a six-way race for the top 4 places. And with “points difference” the next tie breaker after “match points” and “match wins”, it has to be said that every bit of Friday night’s winning margin is important for our quest for a top two finish and the home semifinal that goes with it.
There’s no doubt that the return of Sexton to the lineup played a part in our ability to break through so often...he seems to have lost none of his guile and sound decision-making...but still I have to say it has been awhile since I have seen the boys in blue show such a deep rooted culture of close handling right throughout the fifteen on the park at any given time.
It was certainly a joy to watch on Friday and if we can keep it going through to May there could well be good times ahead for us. JLP